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In Bed With A Stranger(6)

By: Mary Wine



“Bastard.”

Anne hurried to give her deference. Philipa sneered at her. “Bastard born means conceived in sin. Better be grateful that the church has pity, else you never would have been baptized.”

“Yes, madam.”

Truly the insult didn’t hurt. She had grown scars long ago from Philipa’s lashing tongue. It was much easier to endure than her slaps.

In a flutter of silk skirts, Lady Mary flew into the room.

“Father married me off! Oh, Mother, I don’t want to go to Scotland.”

Lady Mary flung herself at her mother, crying on her chest loudly. “Tell me I don’t have to go, Mother. Please.” She began wailing loud enough to wake the dead. Huge tears flooded her eyes as she tore at her mother’s dress.

“Tell him I won’t go to any Scot’s bed.”

“That’s enough out of you, Mary.”

Everyone in the chamber turned as the lord of the castle entered. Even crowned with silver hair, he was no less powerful, no less the master of the home. Even Philipa lowered her head in deference, dragging her daughter with her.

“And I’ll be damned if you will shame me, Daughter. It’s a solid match with young Brodick. He’s already a titled man.”

“Of Scots.” Mary’s lip protruded as she whimpered.

“Times are changing, Daughter. We’ll soon be a single nation, united under a Scot-born king. McJames will be a good match, better than many of your court friends will have.”

The earl looked at his wife but his attention strayed to Anne. Anne couldn’t stop her lips from curving upward in welcome even as she lowered her head. A sparkle lit her sire’s eyes but there was a low hiss from Mary as she noticed the exchange. Anne’s half-sister looked over her mother’s shoulder, hate glittering in her eyes.

Her father stiffened, his gaze returning to his wife’s. “The Earl of Alcaon’s retainers should be here within the week. I was only granted leave to escort Mary home. I leave for court at daybreak.” He pointed one thick finger at Mary. “You’ll take your place as I’ve arranged it and there will be no more tears. Childhood is finished. See to it, Philipa.”

“Must she marry?”

The earl scowled. “Good God, woman! She’s twenty-six years old. This child has turned up her nose at every match I’ve laid before her. There will be no more discussion. It’s my own fault for giving either of you a say in the matter. Mary should have been wed four years ago but I tried to wait until she agreed with a match or brought me one of her own thinking. Madam, it’s been eight years since we placed her at court.”

“But he’s Scots, Father.”

“He is an earl, madam.” Mary sank back as her father moved toward her. “A man whose land borders ours which makes him a fine choice as husband for you.”

Mary sobbed louder and her father made a low sound of disgust. He turned his displeasure on Philipa.

“You see there, Wife? This is the only child you had to see to and she is a whining whelp, ungrateful for the good match that’s been made for her. What would you have of me, Daughter? Would you be a spinster? Or one of those disgraced courtier friends of yours with bastards growing in their bellies? There are not many lords who will have you due to the fact that your mother never birthed a son.”

Mary shuddered and stood up, her eyes round with horror. Her head shook back and forth as her father glared at her. Anne did pity her half-sister; the world was most cruel to daughters because they carried the stain of their mothers. Because Philipa refused to give her husband an heir, Mary was suspected of being a poor choice for a wife as well.

“Aye, now you’re seeing the truth of the matter. Another year and who will have you? It’s time for marriage and children. ’Tis not an engagement, Daughter. You’ve been wed by proxy. Young McJames was not in the mood to be delayed by having to wait for a wedding to be arranged. The matter is sealed. You are now a wife with duties to attend to.”

The earl turned and left, his spurs clanking against the stone floor. His men followed, having witnessed the entire event. But Philipa was oblivious to the maids in the chamber with her. Privacy was an extreme luxury. As wife to an earl, Mary would have to learn to deal with the many eyes that would know her every movement. Better now than on an estate she was expected to manage.

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